June 12, 2009

Chow Chow Music
Doomsday Scenarios

Recorded by Peter Hanlon | Mastered by Michael Quinn at the Moontower Recording Studio

When an artist titles his album’s closing song “And Finally,” there’s a relieving sense that, for someone so bent on using strange electronic sounds, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Chow Chow Music (the project of Astoria’s Peter Hanlon) seems determined to unsettle its audience on the oddly entertaining album Doomsday Scenarios.


“Cookies” introduces the album with an instrumental song-fragment featuring a lilting ukulele, bells and hand-held percussion. The uke returns on the precious and astutely titled “Fluteuke” with an out-of-tune riff under a duo of flutes playing an ostinato reminiscent of a fifth grade recital. Combine that with the overdriven, low-frequency synthesizer and a drum track lifted from some power ballad and you get the essence of Hanlon’s idea of experimentation: grab whatever instrument is within reach, slam the tones against each other, and see what happens. The combination of such disparate timbres often yields interesting results.


One of the few tracks with lyrics, “Springtime” takes a Mold Peaches approach and pushes its cuteness to the extreme. “Springtime flowers and the pretty birdies chirp in time with my hurdy

gurdy/I’m dripping honey and there’s bunnies all around,” they sing in a chorus that recalls the kind of children’s song that actually frightens kids and parents, alike. A hurdy gurdy, incidentally, is a mechanical fiddle-like instrument with a drone that functions much like that of a bagpipe. Something new every day. Doomsday Scenarios has a dark humor that applies an “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” attitude to the apocalypse (“Make your own clothes and learn to farm/Cities were great, but rural life’s got its charms”). The mostly instrumental tunes on this record certainly have their charms, too; and much of Chow Chow Music’s material works, not only because of the quirky experimentation, but also because of Hanlon’s twisted sense of humor. (self-released)


-Ryan Faughnder


June 11, 2009

Burbank International
City of Burbank

Recorded, produced, engineered and mastered by H.A. Eugene at Audio Box Studios in San Francisco

H.A. Eugene’s love of airports, Burbank International’s sound is as eclectic and multidimensional as an airport itself. With their debut album, City of Burbank, the San Francisco-based rock band manages to create something more than an album, rather they release an emotive and often humorous collection of unique experiences.

The album opens with two distinctly different tracks. “Now I’m Serious” combines ambient chimes on a low-key vibe, creating a compellingpiece suitable for a movie soundtrack. In contrast, “Chicken Shoals” offers a much more upbeat and bouncy experience. The album takes an introspective turn on “Who’s That Girl?” an incredibly strong song with gritty vocals, keys and haunting strings weaving in and out through the background. The band’s tongue-in-cheek humor is evident on tracks like “Charlie Jerk that Yolk” and “Drinking On An Empty Stomach,” the latter utilizing a clever inclusion of censorship bleeps. On “Tenderloin,” Eugene pays homage to his home city with an intimate guitar and vocals track, a song stripped down to its most soulful essentials. But “Laudanum” may very well be the album’s most memorable song, and it serves as the height of the album’s expressiveness. Amidst steady guitars and a beautifully eerie repeating warble, industrialized beats enter with a rhythm often independent of the track, breaking free at times to create their own sense of identity. It’s musical liberation at its best, the defiance of standards within the confines of standards.

City of Burbank is an album almost impossible to tire from. With a unique combination of ambiance, dramatic musical voices and strong songwriting, Burbank International has created an effort capable of sustaining prolonged flight. (self released)

-Keane Li

June 10, 2009

DVDs+MP3s+GTA4s > CDs

A study by Charles Arthur (UK’s The Guardian) concerning the drop in music sales over the past 10 years correlates the CD drop with the rise of DVD and video games sales. The study measures CD sales in comparison to DVD rentals and sales, and video game revenue. Results show an extraordinary growth in the gaming industry with a steady shrinking of CD sales and a smaller growth in DVD sales. What could this mean?

Arthur points to consumers’ “finite” amount of money. We do not have enough money for all of these things. Simple economic logic shows that in a specific market, in this case entertainment, one industry's success means another's decline barring any abnormal increases in population income. It's supply and demand – people are substituting the multimedia entertainment of the video game for the single medium of music. Remember what happened to silent film when talkies first came out?

Simply put, we do not have enough disposable cash for all of this stuff. Then again, most people do not have the patience, or tools, to download video games for free. This statement is becoming less and less true for movies, but still, quality continues to be valued by the majority of consumers who would rather not watch a super-compressed version on their laptop of Transformers

So, while the onus is consistently placed on pirating, gaming and DVD sales are silently infringing on the entertainment market share. Alternately, gaming companies may have taken advantage of the music industry’s troubles by increasing costs and expanding their audiences (look at Wii). Coinciding with Xbox 360's release in November of 2005 was perhaps where CD sales started falling the most. Playstation 3 and Wii only made things worse in the ensuing years.

-Jake S

Are downloads really killing the music industry? Or is it something else?

Climbing Aural Altitudes and Visual Vistas: High Places

Performer Magazine, June 2009

Story by Patrick Hurley, Photo by High Places

Rather than freezing, bleak mountaintops, High Places lend themselves to a warmer, abundant garden of sound. “Things just kind of grow from pretty simple, initial sources,” states Barber. “Essentially everything starts from little scraps and snips of things.”

And that is what makes High Places so engrossing. Each song is almost like a whirling dervish, spinning faster and bringing you deeper into a soundscape that develops from basic rhythmic, sonic and visual flavors. Picture a blender-chopped waterfall of vaguely tribal beats, descending through a floating mist of delicate vocals.

Shortly after beginning a set at one of their Middle East shows in Boston, Pearson asked the crowd how the house sounded. A few audience members replied that the vocals weren’t as prominent as they would have liked, but that is certainly not by accident. “We’ve always treated the vocals, and the vocal melody especially, as another instrument,” she says. “We don’t see them as needing to be the main event.” And yet this begs the question, if the vocals aren’t a focal point, does that diminish the importance of lyrics? The vinyl version of their full-length, eponymous debut did contain an insert with facsimiles of Pearson’s handwritten words. Chinscratching poetics from the track “From Stardust to Sentience” like, “Millions of forces of physics and providence/Teamed up and brought us all here/Waking and sleeping and yielding to gravity/Pointless to measure in years,” are nothing to dismiss. Pearson responds, perhaps too humbly, “I think that’s always a tricky question because I do really love lyrics and I try to make our lyrics available online.”

The duality of High Places is unique in that the songs themselves benefit equally from contributions of both parties. The writing process, however, is not always a simultaneous effort. “One of us will kind of have this little piece or snippet of an idea and the other person, maybe while they’re alone, will respond to that piece and add something to it and the song starts to grow that way,” says Barber. And the songs grow not only to aural altitudes, but into visual vistas as well.

In the last several months High Places have been touring with video projection behind their otherwise minimal stage setup. “We like to incorporate visual art and musical art to make it more of a complete experience,” says Pearson. “We’ve been having projections all the time lately. Seems like most venues these days have a projector or access to one, so that works out pretty much every night.” And the images that accompany the music depict the evolution of High Places as they travel more extensively. “It’s constantly changing,” Pearson says. “The most recent scenes we have now are from our tour of Australia and New Zealand, and before that, Norway and Switzerland.” Barber adds, “I like seeing the videos while we’re playing because it reminds me of why we’re doing it.” As the visual side of a High Places performance

expands, the songs do as well. “We’re getting into the idea of more improvisation,” states Barber. “That’s something that has always been exciting for us but is becoming more paramount now while we’re working on new things.”


That improvisation comes from the utilization of different samplers, drum pads and mics set up with different types of delay and reverb. When viewing a High Places show, and their simple table stacked with equipment, it’s somewhat hard at first to figure out exactly what is going on. While Barber pounds away with various implements on the right, Pearson adjusts dials and settings for her vocals on the left. “Initially we were heavily reliant on samplers because the sounds we were making were kinda scrappy,” Barber says. “Things like household items, things that aren’t real instruments like glasses of water, you can’t really play in a live setting. So samplers were kind of necessary to get it across.” And while he cues those samples (all of which are original High Places creations), Pearson explores more ethereal textures via her vocals. “I’ve gradually figured out the best way to put reverb and delay that work for me on my vocals live, because we like to change those settings a lot,” she says. “The more we perform a song the more we have ideas about ways we can change it.”


Similarly, as the group develops they’re seeking more organic ways to produce their sound. “I really think that technology is a lot of fun to use, but I do feel that from more of a growth perspective, in terms of live shows and improv and all that stuff, that it can be a little limiting,” Barber says. “So I’d like to figure out a way to not be so reliant on samplers.”


Clearly High Places are constantly shifting. Their progression extends not only to their music and performances, but also to location. Recently transplanted to Los Angeles, Rob and Mary are looking to create their next offering. “After this South American tour we have quite a bit of time to start working on some new ideas so things are going to change even more,” says Pearson. So don’t be surprised if the next High Places album is a little tangential to their first. Rob and Mary function at high altitude and just like the ever-grinding rocks of storm-battered Everest, they’ll never look exactly the same day to day.

Read more in the Digital Format Mag

June 9, 2009

Performer Magazine Presents: Benard, Hawks and Lords | The 529 | Atlanta, GA | May 28, 2009

Review and video by Albert Opraseuth
You instantly forget the show started two and a half hours late once Benard struck its first chord – setting an unmatched standard for the rest of the night. Amongst the dissonance, distortion and heavy drum beats; the band pounded out a 28-minute set that absolutely ripped apart my definition of how music should function. If you listened to each instrument separately, it probably wouldn’t make any sense. Together Benard crafts a brand of post-punk, noisy and cacophonous sound that blends into something incredible. I’ve always imagined the soundtrack to the Apocalypse to be comprised of different sub genres of metal. However, when catalyst for the destruction of the planet finally appears, Benard’s music should be playing to set the nefarious tone.

Hawks played next. Together, they’ve crafted a very noisy, very loud sound, as well as a very theatrical performance. Both the melodic instrument players have mastered the art of playing with a lit cigarette in their mouths – though not actually smoking them – serving an aesthetic purpose. Furthermore, the band’s guitarist seemed immune to the affects of “smoke-eye” that often hinders musicians who wear glasses from smoking while playing. Hawks’ set was rhythmic and almost tribal. Although some crowd left during their set because of the sonic intensity, the majority head-banged and threw beer cans in reference to the chaotic songs.

Lords capped off the show at 2 a.m. Their 30-minute set was ferocious and intense as the band demonstrated why it’s often referred to as the “Lords of Louisville.” The band – formally on legendary indie label Jade Tree – drove all the way down from its home state of Kentucky just to play this one show. Enticed by the prospect of free beer, the band played and commented about how this particular show was the first gig in a long time that the group actually liked the other performing bands. About 50 loyal patrons stuck around this late to see the band absolutely destroy. Lords’ hard, spastic and incredibly fast blend of punk, hardcore and bedlam created a boisterous background from last call until close.

June 8, 2009

Sister Grizzly, Grand Lake, Nobody Beats | Starry Plough Pub | Berkeley, CA | June 5, 2009

Review and photos by Robbie Hilson

With six seemingly tossed off syllables, Nobody Beats’ Lo Litchfield at once placed herself in the crystal-balled pantheon of Nostradamus and Miss Cleo. “I got beer on your bag,” she giggled to an onlooker, knowing full well that, like that unfortunate duffle bag, a bar-full of Berkeley’s finest would go home damp and smelling like alcohol.

Litchfield certainly assisted in such an outcome, opening for locals Grand Lake and Sister Grizzly with music that makes you want to drink. Head-hunting for would-be lovers and ex-BFs, the Nobody Beats crooner came on like an ice queen sibling to Alanis Morissette, rocking both high heels and a jet-black Gibson, the color of which reflected each chord’s you-oughta-know mood. Melodic downer jam “Emily Ray” showcased stage guest Connor Morrison’s expressive guitar lines, but also snapped one of Litchfield’s guitar strings – the “happy” G, conveniently. With catchy, gut-wrenching anthems like “Glow” and “They Will Never Compare to Me,” one can only surmise that broken strings aren’t this girl’s only casualties.

Now in a vacuum, undercard Grand Lake’s brand of swirling, offbeat emo might not invoke words like “perky” or “upbeat,” but then following Nobody Beats isn’t a vacuum; it’s an exercise in emotional rescue. So the optimistic-by-comparison “Concrete Blonde on Blonde,” all dressed in Jameson Swanagon’s shimmering arpeggios and Caleb Nichols’ affecting yelps, sounded in this context like an unearthed jewel from Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible sessions – disquietingly poignant, uplifting all the same. The tongue-in-cheek synth duet “She’s a Hater,” on the other hand, could coax a smile in any setting, thanks in no small part to Erika Pipkin’s floating harmonies.

By this point, most of the crowd in the tiny Irish pub had worked up a pretty good buzz. So Sister Grizzly brought the damp to the equation, fulfilling prophecy with an energetic, sweat-soaked capper juiced by Justice Israel’s freight train drumming. A power trio in every sense, San Francisco’s own steamrolled through the kind of hooky riff-rockers that make other riff-rockers develop an inferiority complex. The sludgy grunge ballad, “Oh Baby Oh Mama,” stuck out only for its dejected earnestness. Indeed, most of these giddy, fist-pumping shoutalongs mirrored the cheerfully irreverent stage banter of their creators. Between rave-ups, guitarist Tom Grigor joked of Litchfield’s prior mishap, “You just spilled beer on my bag,” adding, “If you came early, it paid off.” My thoughts exactly.


top right: Lo Litchfield of Nobody Beats

bottom left: Caleb Nichols of Grand Lake

Music Business Crash Course

San Diego, CA

From Sunday, June 7 through this Wednesday, the National Association of Recording Merchandisers is hosting a series of seminars, for musicians and industry people alike, about the evolving digital music industry entitled "NARM Connects: Physical...Digital...Mobile".

Moderated by the American Association of Independent Music president Rich Bengloff, the seminars will focus on marketing, publishing, staffing, publicity, and other industry essentials.

Bengloff notes how music consumption "continues to shift from a purchasing model to a listening model and the economics of how to monetize music are undergoing a dramatic transformation." (A2IM.org)

They are calling this "Music Business 2.0"

Follow the event on Twitter

The audio isn't great but at least you aren't paying $75 to watch it.
For more NARM click here

-Jake S